Honduras, backed in a corner

SAN JOSE — Honduras’ de facto president holds onto power in the capital Tegucigalpa. The country’s Stetson-sporting president in exile holds camp across the border in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, a proposed solution drafted in Costa Rica awaits their signatures.

Over a month after the June 28 predawn raid on the home of President Manuel Zelaya that flung him into exile, the proposed San Jose Accord — which calls for Zelaya’s presidency to be restored — is being touted as the only hope for putting the Honduran debacle to rest.

“If this agreement fails it’ll certainly be much more difficult for any other proposal to be accepted by both sides,” said a beleaguered-looking Costa Rica President Oscar Arias to television crews, minutes after announcing his 11-step program for a neighbor on the brink of chaos.

With sanctions imposed on Honduras, a freeze on aid, exclusion from international organizations and this week’s revocation by the U.S. State Department of several Honduran officials’ diplomatic visas, the international clamp on one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries is growing tighter.

Honduras’s embattled de facto government — led by former Congressional President Roberto Micheletti — may finally be ready to negotiate. “The way forward is to work with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias,” Micheletti wrote recently of the U.S.-backed mediator in an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal. “We are ready to continue discussions once the Supreme Court, the attorney general and Congress analyze President Arias’ proposal.”

The Honduran army has also said it will support any agreement reached in Costa Rica.

Since a pajama-clad Zelaya first arrived at Costa Rica’s doorstep, Arias has said that no solution can be reached without restoring Zelaya’s presidency.

The San Jose document, which Arias drafted after two rounds of intense talks with the Honduran rivals in his living room, aims at the far-off goal of brokering a “reconciliation” deal and creating a power-sharing government to run a country that has grown bitterly polarized.

Here are some of the key points of the draft accord:

  • Zelaya would be reinstated as president, but in an all-party “government of unity and national reconciliation.” This power-sharing experiment would rule under the supervision of an international commission, possibly with the Organization of American States (OAS) at its helm.
  • Zelaya must refrain from calling a national assembly vote on anything with a whiff of constitutional reform.
  • The Honduran Congress would grant amnesty for “the political crimes committed during this conflict, before and after June 28.” There would be a six-month moratorium on any legal actions over events leading up to that date.
  • The presidential election could come one month before its scheduled Nov. 29 date.

The terms likely need tweaking before either side will sign. Some observers argue the Honduran de facto government may never agree to allowing Zelaya’s return, or at least not before the new election campaigns begin.

“Micheletti’s concerned that if Zelaya returns he will interfere with the elections,” said Fabian Volio, Costa Rica’s former Justice Minister, who has been watching the situation closely. But he said there’s a way around that.

“I would move the elections up even another month earlier, to the last day of September, so that Zelaya returns after there’s already a chosen president-elect. Then he would still have three months left to finish governing.”

At the end of last week Zelaya moved with an entourage of supporters and reporters from Managua to Nicaragua’s northern border with Honduras, vowing to return. He managed to step over the line — which is flanked by Honduran armed forces on the Honduras side — for what appeared to be a symbolic return and then retreated back to the Nicaragua side. Zelaya said about 3,000 people have come to his encampment to show support, according to Bloomberg.

Despite the massive media attention and growing support, Zelaya’s actions have been eroding the patience of some key international actors, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called his stroll across the border a “reckless” move. Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said Zelaya's foray into Honduras was not helping pave the way to a peaceful reconciliation.

Meanwhile, reports of killings and disappearances of protesters have been coming out of Honduras, painting a bleak situation for the country in the wake of the coup. Worsening the picture, free press groups including Reporters Without Borders have condemned what they called the de facto government’s “frequent interruption” of media that have been critical of Micheletti.

Though largely unsympathetic to Zelaya as a leader, Costa Rica's sentiment is that Honduras’s president should go home. As one Tico pointed out, many Costa Ricans just want their own president to return to fixing his own country’s problems.

“I’m all in favor of keeping good relations abroad and even helping solve a crisis,” said Edwin Cardenas, a 40-year-old computer technician. “But the president should be worried about the economic crisis back home too, where people are losing their jobs and having problems. That’s what a lot of people here are thinking.”

More GlobalPost dispatches about the Honduran coup:

A coup without friends

Beating the curfew in Tegucigalpa

The view from Cuba